In 1958 Charlie Taylor, his parents, and younger siblings John and Fran moved to Westport from rural western Kentucky.
It was a culture shock for the Staples High School sophomore. He found friends on the football team and Downshifters hot rod club, and retains a fondness for the town.
Though long removed from here — he’s had successful dual careers with Vanderbilt University and as a Nashville singer/songwriter — he is an avid “0688o” reader.
This summer, Charlie’s thoughts turn to Mahackeno. Today’s it’s a thriving co-ed day camp, on the grounds of the Westport Weston Family YMCA.
Back in the day — when the Y was downtown — it was an equally beloved boys-only camp, in the woods off Wilton Road. Charlie writes:
Ah, Camp Mahackeno!
I was a counselor in training there when I was 15. Bruce Jamison was the director. He had come to Westport from a Y in Massachusetts, and was probably in his late 20’s with a young family. He was an early advisor to the Downshifters as well, along with football and track coach Paul Lane.
Summers were spectacular, with canoe trips full of 6-year-old campers out on the Saugatuck River, and swimming lessons.
Swimming in the Saugatuck River.
All-night campouts were a highlight of the summer for the kids. I remember my first romantic adventures that summer with an older counselor, and my first beer party. (The names are redacted to protect the innocent.)
I remember folk songs around the campfire by Steve Yollen, and in the mornings campers in a circle around the flag saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Pledge of Allegiance, at Camp Mahackeno.
Eventually my dad hired Bruce to work for the nascent American Cancer Society. He had a brilliant career there, before starting his own fundraising consulting career in Denver.
Westport artist Stephan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno — and campers there — for this Saturday Evening Post cover.
Camp Mahackeno was the winter headquarters for the Downshifters. It was well equipped, with acetylene torches for metal work. I remember a chain hoist rigged for engine removal/installations as well. Maybe it was attached to a tripod of metal poles.
A magazine story on the Downshifters.
There was a lot of camaraderie there. A radio helped us stay abreast of the newest hits of the day on the night shift from WINS, WABC, Murray the K and Alan Freed.
The Downshifters at Camp Mahackeno, with a Model A Ford.
Westport was a hidden gem back then. It was close to New York, but just far away enough to have its own pristine identity.
Put another way: It was a million miles away from my home town of Mayfield, Kentucky (or what’s left of it now, after a tornado almost totally ripped it off the map in December, 2021; this week, it endured extreme flooding).
To move from rural Kentucky in 1958, and then grow up in Westport, were two radically different experiences. I’m lucky I was able to experience those two different worlds as a teenager.
When I went back to visit my friends in Mayfield during high school, people thought I was making up stories about Staples and the Downshifters, the beach, the hot rods, and of course access to theaters in New York.
Not to mention Paul Newman sightings, working for the Bedford estate on Beachside Avenue, lifeguarding at Compo, Burying Hill and the rest.
Westport shaped me into who I have become. I’ll be forever grateful to my dad for having the vision to move our family there.